Sunday, 01 August 2010 15:07

Wait til next year

I was born a Phillies fan in 1952. I lived through the heartbreaking pennant race of 1964, but I knew we could wait until next year. Sixteen years later, in 1980, the Phillies finally won the World Series. It was their first World Series victory in the 97 years since the team’s founding. Folks in Chicago have been waiting for 102 next years for the Cubs to win the Series.


Published in Blogs
Monday, 07 June 2010 22:29

This Isn't Rocket Science

Today, NASA’s chief Rocket Scientist, Dr. Bobby Braun, visited our shop. Even as I write this it is difficult to grasp. I keep waiting to wake up from this X Prize Dream I seem to be trapped in.

U. S. Congressman Chaka Fattah arranged for Dr. Braun to come to school and meet with the Team. The chief technologist for NASA wanted to see what we were doing.

Our students delivered powerful speeches about hybrid technology, the need for green jobs, what it means to be a student in West Philly, and what real educational reform looks like. The adults, as usual, listened with pride.

Congressman Fattah, State Representative Roebuck and Dr. Braun spoke to all of us and spent another hour answering our questions and taking a close look at our technology. It was incredible.

Over the last two years, we’ve had some amazing visitors including a United States Senator, a Congressman, a world famous musician, and a member of President Obama’s cabinet. Each visit has been as inspirational as it is inconceivable. We sometimes wonder if the kids understand just how big a deal our work is. While what we’re doing isn’t rocket science, it is real and important work for students and adults, alike.

When other people – brilliant, powerful or influential – validate what we’re doing, it should send a wake-up call to the rest of the country. We think the message is clear – when you give young people the opportunity and space to do real work, wonderful things can happen.

Scroll down to see video of Dr. Braun and to read Ronnie Polaneczky's column in today's Philadelphia Daily News.



Published in Blogs
Wednesday, 12 May 2010 17:30

What will you do if you win?

As the field narrows and we get closer to the knock-out round, I imagine all the teams are hearing this question more frequently.  I also imagine that the answers vary as widely as the teams who are entered in this $10 million competition.

I started thinking seriously about this question over a year ago.  Ann had just called me – she was having a melt-down, “What are we doing in this competition?  We are in way over our heads.”  I knew how to respond because I had struggled with the same feelings several times myself.

We are not a car company. The West Philly Hybrid X Team is made up of educators and students.  We entered the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE not to launch a new car company, but to create an unparalleled educational experience for our students.  We wanted to demonstrate the value of engaging kids – their creativity and their intellect – in solving some of the world’s most pressing problems.  We wanted to be a part of the collective push to revolutionize the automotive industry.

A year ago I realized, by that definition, we had already won.  We engaged an amazing group of students to develop our vision about hybrid cars and how to improve urban air quality. We developed a business plan to manufacture our cars in our community and provide pipelines from high school to the good manufacturing jobs that Philadelphia needs.  But more than that, we were being taken seriously.  The local and national media were treating us as true contenders.  Our students received unprecedented opportunities to speak at universities, national conferences and in the community. Sponsors and donors committed to support our vision and volunteers and students continued to pour tremendous time and effort into this project.

We have already won.

Most of you probably still want to know what we will do if we take first place and receive the millions.  Well, stranger things have happened. And since I do believe in Divine intervention, I would never rule that out.  However, the reality is that we are competing against teams of engineers, well-funded start-up companies and major universities.

Our goal is to ride the rollercoaster and show the world what an urban high school team is capable of.  And when that ride comes to its end, we will begin work on our next dream – to start a school.  We’ve learned a bit about hybrid vehicles over the past twelve years. We’ve learned a lot more about how to educate youth.  The world is in need of 100 MPGe vehicles.  Philadelphia needs new manufacturing jobs.

But, most of all, America is in desperate need of dynamic schools that work. We can’t wait to bring our winning team to that challenge.



Published in Blogs
Thursday, 22 April 2010 19:34

Upstairs, Downstairs

Upstairs, Downstairs was an award winning British TV show that aired on public television during the 1970s. It detailed the lives of servants, who lived downstairs, and their wealthy employers, who lived upstairs. The story is set shortly after the turn of the 20th century and the great historic and social happenings of the time are integrated into the story.  At Auto, we have our own version of upstairs, downstairs, fraught with drama set against our 21st century urban landscape.  

The Academy of Automotive and Mechanical Engineering is housed in a two story building a block away from West Philadelphia High School.  On the ground floor we have three auto shops and classrooms. One is for body work and the other two are devoted to auto technology, where Ron Preiss and Jerry DiLossi teach. The West Philly Hybrid X Team works in the center shop.

Upstairs are all our academic classrooms, a computer lab, offices and a cafeteria. Some students do really well on both floors. Others have a very distinct preference for one or the other. Some kids are adored by their academic teachers and are rude and disrespectful to their shop teachers.  Some kids will do anything in the world for their shop teachers and mouth off to their academic teachers. There are constant stresses between the floors. There are also stresses in the community that make their way into school.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than 50% of African American teenagers are unemployed. In Philadelphia, the overall unemployment rose to 11.2% in February, more than double what it was in 2007. Barely 50% of students entering Philadelphia public schools graduate in 4 years. The dropout rate is staggering.

In spite of all of this, we have a wonderful group of students who work with us on the EVX Team. We don’t mean that they are all perfect students with perfect report cards and test scores. They are not immune to the problems of the city or those of urban education. We mean they are wonderful to work with in our after school program. We get to see them as young men and women who work on cars, write letters, deliver speeches and blog.  

Sometimes, like a TV show, drama and emotions boil over.  For the kids and the adults, it’s an emotional rollercoaster.

We had a real Upstairs, Downstairs day today. Downstairs, teachers and students worked into the night to get our cars ready to go to the Michigan International Speedway. Upstairs, a fight in the cafeteria, spilled over into the hallway necessitating the presence of the Philadelphia Police Department.  I’m not even sure that everyone downstairs knows the scope of today’s incident and the impact it will have on some team members.

This is real life. We won’t win an Emmy for today’s episode.

Published in Blogs
Saturday, 03 April 2010 19:36

Mike should major in EV

 Michael Glover is a first-year-team member, and a junior at the West Philadelphia Auto Academy. Ann and I can’t figure him out.

 He has a C or D, in pretty much all of his classes, including shop.  Recently, Mr. Preiss caught him cutting shop not once, but twice.  I guess the shop doesn’t have what the corner store does.

 He falls asleep in my class about once a week.  I have his mother’s cell phone number saved in my phone, and I recently sent her a picture message of her son sleeping in my class.  It was probably one of the greatest picture texts I have ever sent.

 When interim reports went out, Michael was in shock to see such low grades.  He couldn’t understand why the majority of his grades were low D’s, and in my case an F. 

 “Michael, you never do your homework.  You never have your books for class.  Sometimes you don’t even have a pen..  The only major assignment you completed was the four stanza poem with metaphors.  And you didn’t even write four stanzas. And you wrote similes!”

 Yet, Michael does exceptionally well after 3:04 p.m.

 He is an amazing football player.  He was a great asset to the team this past fall as an offensive linebacker.  He did very well in the field and worked very hard in practice.  He loves football so much.  He cannot wait for the football summer camp in July.

 When football season was over, he joined the West Philly Hybrid X Team.  He was simply looking for something to do after school.  Many of the students on the team fall into this category.  They enjoy automotive and working with the teachers and teammates. Most of the students don’t want to go home right after school.

 Yet, Michael has a tremendous family base.  His mother is very supportive and is in constant communication with his teachers.  I know.  I talk to her about once or twice a week.  His father stops by the shop to check in on Michael.  Sometimes Michael doesn’t do a great job of letting his parents know his schedule when we are in the shop late into the evening.  When that happens, they come looking for him.

 Michael may be one of the only students on the team who realizes all the exceptional opportunities provided for him.  He said in an interview that he joined the team because he thought this could be a way to get into college.  He also said that he is pretty much as famous as all the influential people the team has met, and doesn’t see the big deal with them coming to our shop.

 He thrives on Simon’s lectures on aerodynamics.  He loves the science behind the cars and is working very closely with a Penn student volunteer on researching ways to make the cars more aerodynamic.  He is the one who found a more aerodynamic windshield that the team is looking to buy for the cars.  The same day he left for the corner store during sixth period, he stayed with Edgar (the Penn engineering student) until five o’clock to research a contraption he could build to put on top of the GT to lower wind resistance.

When the gear heads on the team stumble over the name of a car part, a specific about the hybrid technology, or the effect of rolling resistance on fuel economy, Michael has the answer. Without fail. Every time it happens – which is frequently – we’re floored. This is why Ron Preiss says Michael should major in EV.

 Ann and I spent an entire evening about two weeks ago talking about Michael Glover and his idiosyncrasies, and we still can’t figure him out.  He is the reason why high school curriculum should be restructured, the school hours reworked, the menu in the cafeteria overhauled and football mini camps should be scheduled throughout the school year. We also need to trust in our students’ abilities some more.

 Last thought: I was so frustrated with Michael one day that I called my mother and had her speak to him.  Whenever a student is giving me a particular hard time, I call my mom in the middle of class and have her speak to him/her.  Last year it was Rameak Taylor.  This is year, it is Michael Glover.  My mother is a force.  She yells more than I do.  She works at a middle school in Maryland.  Her lunch is during my fourth period with Michael.  Convenient.  Even after their conversation, Michael still didn’t do his homework that night and didn’t bring his book to class. 

 We are stumped. 

Published in Blogs
Sunday, 21 March 2010 22:52

Thoughts on Renaissance

We wanted to share with you some of our thoughts and our classmates' thoughts on the Renaissance List.  As some may know, West Philadelphia High School is on the list.  We think this is not a good idea for many reasons.  We don't see the students coming to school for an hour longer and two Saturdays a month.  There are more students going to drop out. They should not transfer teachers, because they really help students deal with problems at home.  Our teachers are nice, and they know what they are doing.  Momo and I are really excited for college.  We are also very nevous, but we want to make sure that our high school is still the same place we left it.  We loved being in Auto and do not want that program to go away.

Below are two lists of ideas from the junior class in the Auto Academy.  A couple of the seniors ran a group filled of five to six juniors and asked the group two questions, "What are your concerns about West becoming a Renaissance school?" and "How would you create your ideal school?"

Thank you

Momo and Khaleda

Concerns about West Philadelphia High School becoming a Renaissance school.

1.  Will there be a raise in the drop out rate because students do not want to go to school longer or on Saturday?

2.  Our trans-passes do not work on Saturdays, how will we get to school?

3.  Who decides and what criteria will be used to pick the teachers that stay?  When will that happen? 

4.  Due to the longer day, will the length of the classes change?

5.  If we are a Renaissance school, what will our uniform look like?

6.  Lack of motivation to stay longer and come to school on Saturdays

7.  Is this a violation of student rights to not allow transfer?

8.  What will the graduation date be for seniors and will that interrupt summer programs offered by college and universities?

9.  Was the walk-through a formality for Arlene Ackerman and does the superintendent have personal ties to this school and the school district?

10.  What is the response from the alumni of West? 

11.  What does the classroom size look like in a Renaissance school?  How many new transfers will West receive since it is a community school and will that change the safety climate in the classroom?

12.  Will colleges and universities not accept students from West because it is a Renaissance school with a negative tone?

13.  There is not a clear standard for any aspect of a Renaissance school: longer school day, two Saturdays a month, teacher transfer?  There is not a clear standard or criteria for anything about a Renaissance school.

14.  What does a Promise Academy look like?

15.  Are we really going to have 50% of our teachers back or will teachers decide to leave and close to 70 to 80 % of the staff will not be here?

16.  Why the extra hour and not a complete change of the curriculum?

17.  Why get rid of the teachers?  What data supports that it is the teacher's fault for low test scores and poor climate?

Ideal School

1.  Able to leave the building for lunch.

2.  No uniforms

3.  Art classes

4.  Allow electronics

5.  Upperclassmen receive laptops for the school year

6.  More Outward Bound trips and field trips

7.  No hall-passes needed

8.  Rotating Block Roster

9.  7:45 am start to the day, 2:30 p.m. end of the day

10.  More trade courses

11.  Work rosters for upperclassmen

12.  Trans-passes given to each student

13.  More active science lab.  We want to actually do experiments and dissections.

14.  Early dismissal every Friday.

15.  Better and more nutritious food in the cafeteria

16.  Partnerships with local city universities

Published in Blogs
Wednesday, 03 March 2010 09:20

Dr. D's Prescription for Education

Jerry DiLossi - also known as Mr. D., Jerry D. or Dr. D. - has been teaching auto technology to Philadelphia high school students since Hauger was in kindergarten. He and Ron Preiss deliver our NATEF certified curriculum in the following areas: brakes, electrical/electronic systems, engine performance and suspension & steering.  We are the only NATEF certified school in the Philadelphia School District. This is a big deal. NATEF certification is conferred by the Automotive Society of Excellence (ASE) and is not easy to obtain.

There are about 140 students in the Auto Academy. Jerry D. teaches most of them and it is unfortunate that a pretty large percentage of them don’t have much interest in auto technology. After 37 years in the District, Jerry can’t understand why he’s teaching all these kids who don’t give a rat’s ass about cars.

If you ask many of the kids how they got to Auto, they’ll tell you they don’t have a clue. They are telling the truth. Actually, none of us really understand it, but it’s partly because our school, the Academy of Automotive and Mechanical Engineering, is a hybrid. It is not a vocational school. It is not a career technical school. It is not a comprehensive high school.  It is a program within a comprehensive high school.

While the Auto Academy is a self-contained operation in a recently renovated building containing academic classrooms, computer labs and auto shops, we are part of West Philadelphia High School (WPHS), a neighborhood comprehensive high school. The main part of WPHS is a hulking structure that was built in 1911 and takes up an entire city block, one street over from the Auto Academy.  West has a long and storied history. Many incredibly successful people graduated from West Philly.  The Speedboys won more than their fair share of athletic championships.

More recently, however, West Philadelphia High’s reputation has suffered. It is listed as a school that fails to make adequate yearly progress in standardized testing. It remains on the list of persistently dangerous schools, in spite of a dramatically improved school climate under the leadership of Principal Saliyah Cruz. The 1100 students who are enrolled at West Philadelphia High are assigned to a number of different programs, including Auto.

This means, that even if you have no interest in cars, you may get sent to Auto where you spend 2 class periods a day learning about master cylinders and air conditioners. I think about this a lot. Even though I graduated from a Philadelphia High School 40 years ago, I have vivid recollections of what I liked and didn’t like about school.

I can tell you that if I had been put in a cosmetology program or a business program when I was in high school I would have been the most obnoxious and disruptive kid in the class – if I had bothered to come to school. Dr. D. says if anybody had put him in a roofing class he would have flipped out. He hates heights.

The school day is frequently filled with kids telling anyone within earshot what they think about cars, school and anything else that comes to mind. In spite of the frustrations Dr. D. encounters in the classroom, he and Ron Preiss spend hours and hours after school and on the weekends working with the Team – kids who like to work on cars. Beyond that, Dr. D. has become our best recruiter. Sometimes his recruiting methods are a bit unconventional. He’s recruited kids who get in trouble. He’s told them he’d get them kicked out of Auto if they didn’t join the Team. He’s told kids to join the team so they can get their lives together.

The results have been amazing. The kids are incredibly hard working. They come into the shop early. They come to school when it’s closed. They stay late. This success is a testament to Dr. D’s understanding of kids. It is also about what works in education. If you give teachers and students the space to do work that is important and interesting to them, they can achieve great things.  It really does work better than sticking kids in classes they hate.


Published in Blogs
Tuesday, 16 February 2010 21:20

Coefficient drag

There is this thing called coefficient of drag in describing the aerodynamics of a car.  The next couple weeks, the team's focus is to figure out how to create the best balance of a coefficient drag and the aerodynamics of our cars.

At 4:15 p.m., I was completely brain-dead while Hauger explained the force, pull, gravity, weight, aerodynamics, wind resistance, rain drop, triangle, slippery tires, panels, cardboard, duct tape, and something else I cannot remember about the two cars.  We pretty much want our cars to be as close to zero drag as possible.  Right now, the Ford Focus is a 0.35.  The less drag, the more fuel efficiency.  I bet I was dragging at about a 12409504932948.0987656 towards the end of today.

Today was our first day back at school.  Seriously, I am not complaining.  I really do enjoy 150 teenagers in my life at 7:45 in the morning.  I also enjoyed the additional three inches of snow interrupting first, second, and third period.  Crazy enough, work was accomplished today.  The sophomores and juniors finished their interim essays.  I saw about 50% of my senior class during eighth period and E.B. White was gracious enough to grace the classroom with a stream-of-consciousness writing style.

The team assembled for its Tuesday meeting run by Hauger and his excessive need for aerodynamics.  It is interesting to compare how the students perform during the day versus the afternoon setting.  Maybe they are more active in the afternoon, because Ann provides pretzels and clementines.  Maybe they are more active, because Ann describes 14 chances for them to public speak, meet fascinating people, and travel outside of West Philly during the school day.  February, March, and April are very busy and important months for the team.  The mechanical aspects of the cars have to be near perfection in order to participate in the next round in June.  Within the next two weeks, the students will speak to Mayor Nutter, appear on a Gates Foundation video, seek tutoring from Penn engineers, and partake in the documentary filming.

It is a very challenging schedule.  We wouldn't be doing any of this if we didn't want a challenging schedule.  Sometimes mistakes get in our way, and we run into situations that may appear out of our control.  If ever there was a time for our students to realize that nothing else matters but taking care of yourself and the education you receive, it is now.  We need the students to have zero drag.

If you can, email us some of your thought on how we can make our cars more like a "raindrop."   How can we make sure that we are achieving the best aerodynamics we can safely achieve in the cars?

Also, it cannot snow ever again.

Ride or Die.

Ms. R

Published in Blogs
Sunday, 06 December 2009 19:51

When old is better than new

When old is better than new.

I’m an oldhead.  No doubt about it. I’m the oldest member of the West Philly Hybrid X Team by many years. However, when you hang around teenagers every day you learn some new things. I text, although never while driving. I am on Facebook, although I don’t play any games. I even know what LMAO is. I do it often. I work with teenagers.

That brings me to my story about Sekou Kamara. Sekou is a senior. I’ve told Mrs. Cruz, the West Philadelphia High School Principal, that if she ever needs any work done in the office, she should call Sekou. It’s true.  If we need the shop cleaned at 6:00 AM, Sekou will arrive at 5:45. If there are 50 boxes of text books to move, Sekou’s the man.

When visitors come to the shop and we need someone to explain the technology, Sekou is the best tour guide. By the way, (I recently learned that this can be expressed as BTW) he was a full time intern for SEPTA this summer working on the rail side.  Over the summer Sekou acquired a whole new body of knowledge about electricity.

During our team building workshop, Sekou was the most engaged and insightful team member.

However, if you are looking for Sekou at 3:00 PM for our regular Tuesday meeting, he won’t be there. Why? He is attending credit recovery, making up classes that he failed last semester. I truly don’t understand it.

I told Sekou he is an enigma. He didn’t know what an enigma is. I consulted with Ms. R. because she is an English teacher. I think the correct new definition of enigma is WTF. Sekou, who is also on Facebook, understood.

Ride or Die!

Published in Blogs
Saturday, 05 December 2009 13:35

We go to school on Saturdays

Today is Saturday, and we have a meeting at school.  I got up late. Khaleda called me in the morning and told me to get my butt down here.  I was watched a movie last night so I sleep soooooooooooo late.  The movie was so good.  It’s called Pretty Woman.  My favorite part is at the end when Edward wanted Vivian come to New York with him, but Vivian didn’t want to become one of Edward’s girls so she said no.  The next day Edward showed up at her apartment and then they stayed together.  OMG!!  I love Richard Gere he is so great.

We met with Helen today. She works for Philadelphia Academy. She helped us to organize our meetings in a fun and effective way.  They want us to take more ownerships of the meeting.  Instead of Ann and Simon running them, we can run them.  At first, she let us introduce ourselves and use the first letter of our name to come up with an adjective. My name starts with the letter M, so I said "magnificent."  Then we played an icebreaker game. We have to ask each other a question and we can’t answer it.  I love that game even when I was kicked out at the third round.

She is a very nice person and beautiful.  We came up with few questions about what is important to building two cars. How is fun? What need to change? And why our school grades related to the team?  Jacques said: “dedication, determination, and discipline.”  Khaleda said: “great resume builder.”

I say: “to have more experience. Other people don’t have this great opportunity.”

At the end, Helen wanted us say what we liked about meeting and what we would change.  Mr. Hauger said: “people took all of his doughnuts.”  Most people said: “Not a lot of people showed up.”

Published in Blogs
Page 1 of 2